The way to correctly prune a tree

Virtually all of the trees in our yards will need to be pruned during their lives — particularly in the first 10 to 20 years after planting. Winter is a good time to do some pruning, although spring-flowering trees should be trimmed in late spring/early summer after they bloom.

A tree may need to be trimmed to deal with issues, such as storm damage, limb weight, dead limbs and to stop the spread of disease. Trees also are pruned to adapt them to our urban environment, including keeping limbs from coming in contact with power lines, rubbing against the home, hanging too low or obstructing views. Pruning also can make trees more attractive and useful in the home landscape.

But first a word of caution. Pruning trees can be very dangerous. Always watch for power lines. Be very careful when using power tools. If you will have to climb in the tree to do the pruning, you should definitely consider hiring a professional. Think of safety first.

When pruning, you must have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask yourself why the tree needs to be trimmed, and then carefully consider which branches need to be cut to achieve your goal.

When evaluating your trees, try to anticipate potential problems. Look where branches are and how they’re growing. Then, imagine the years going by and how that branch will grow. Will it eventually cause problems?

For instance, it’s much better to prune away a small young branch that’s obviously growing toward your house than to wait until the branch is large and hitting the roof. 

If possible, avoid removing branches larger than 4 inches. Branches that size or larger create big wounds which will take a long time to heal. Anticipating issues and pruning early to correct them minimizes the need to remove large branches.

When pruning a tree, try to work with its growth pattern. If a branch is too long or growing in the wrong direction, prune it back to a side branch growing in a more appropriate direction or remove it entirely. Don’t cut it back to some arbitrary point just to get it out of the way. This will leave an unattractive stub difficult for the tree to heal. And a shortened branch will likely just resprout with even more undesirable growth.

If limbs are less than three-quarter inch in diameter, they can be removed easily with hand pruners. By-pass pruners (the blades cross like scissors) generally give a better cut than the anvil type (one blade forced against a flat surface). Larger branches should be cut with loppers, a pruning saw or even a chain saw.

When using a saw for pruning, you need the right kind of saw. The ordinary carpenter’s hand saw is not the best because it tends to bind as it moves into a cut. The blade also is too wide to get into narrow branch angles. Use a pruning saw designed for the job. Some have a slight curve in the blade, which aids the sawing action in tight spaces. The teeth of the pruning saw, being much larger than those on the hand saw, will cut through limbs…

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